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Asian Market Defies Classification

Sep 15, 2003  •  Post A Comment

They are one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population and, perhaps more important, represent some of the most coveted media-buying demos for many top brands, yet Asian Americans are confounding media planners’ attempts to build advertising schedules that can effectively reach them.
The main reason, according to just-released report from a top media agency, is that Asian Americans comprise distinct subsets, each with its own culture and customs-not to mention different languages.
While the focus on multicultural marketing has been on bigger segments, such as African Americans and Hispanic Americans, or even on nonethnic markets such as gay and lesbian Americans, Asian Americans have largely been ignored as a distinct media target by many media planners because of their disparate media choices.
“Their growth rate of 61 percent since 1990 was greater than the growth of the Hispanic American population,” noted Rob Frydlewicz, VP, research director, at Carat Insight, which published the 25-page report “Asian Americans: Great Demos, Growing Numbers.”
The problem, Mr. Frydlewicz said, is the way that burgeoning population breaks down-23 percent Chinese, 17 percent Filipino, 16 percent Indian, 11 percent Vietnamese, 10 percent Korean, 7 percent Japanese-and the fact that current media usage data likely does not reflect the unique usage among those individual groups.
“The syndicated data we work with is not refined enough for us to know exactly how Japanese viewers are different from Chinese viewers. The sample sizes just aren’t large enough for us to break that down,” Mr. Frydlewicz said. As a result, he said, planners are left to their own resources and a good measure of intuitive judgment to determine exactly how to target individual groups of Asian Americans.
“We have a feeling that because Japanese Americans are more acculturated into American society, that their TV viewing patterns are more like the rest of the population, but we don’t have the figures to prove it,” he said.
That could change over time. While it does not yet have a discrete demographic break for Asian Americans, Nielsen Media Research has been making a greater effort in its panel recruitment efforts to bring Asian Americans into its sample.
For the moment, Mr. Frydlewicz said planners must rely on crude measures that homogenize Asian American media usage patterns. Based on Carat’s assessment of that data, marketers would do well to stay away from some of the most popular forms of television when targeting people of Asian descent. Instead of top-rated shows such as “Friends” and “CSI,” which index 15 percent below the U.S. average in reaching Asian Americans, advertisers would be better off buying animated sitcoms-especially “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill” and “Futurama”-which index 16 percent over the U.S. average.
Other good genres for reaching Asian Americans include fantasy/occult shows such as “Buffy” and “Charmed” or awards shows and beauty pageants.
In terms of individual networks, the study finds that NBC has the greatest weekly reach (43 percent) among Asian Americans, but Fox has the best index (98) relative to the U.S. average. CBS, with a 28 percent weekly reach and a 69 index to the U.S. average, appears to be the worst place to reach Asians.
Mr. Frydlewicz said part of those skews has to do with the overall demographic and geographic nature of those networks. Asian American households tend to be younger households, which would bias against CBS and in favor of Fox and NBC. Likewise, they tend to be clustered heavily in a few key markets, especially on the West and East coasts.
But Mr. Frydlewicz believes the way programmers cast their shows is another key factor influencing the attraction of Asian Americans to conventional U.S. TV programming.
“I don’t think there are any major Asian American characters on prime-time TV,” Mr. Frydlewicz said. “You’d have to go back to Sulu on “Star Trek” or Margaret Cho’s short-run series 10 years ago to find any.”